The Wonderful World of Washi

Rolls of washi on display in Kamakura, Japan. Photo by Alex Watson via Flickr.

On Saturday, September 9, JANM will premiere a new jewelry workshop titled The World of Washi. Led by Reiko Nakano, this introductory class will teach participants about washi, a traditional Japanese handmade decorative paper, and how to apply it onto a variety of wooden shapes to create jewelry.

Washi, which literally means “Japanese paper,” dates back to the seventh century, when paper was first brought to Japan from China by Buddhist monks. The Japanese quickly developed their own methods for making paper, using fibers from three plants native to Japan: kozo (mulberry), gampi, and mitsumata. The handmade process was passed down from generation to generation, and the quality of the paper, which was stronger and more versatile than its Chinese predecessor, became highly renowned and sought after. By the late 19th century, there were more than 100,000 families in Japan making washi.

As demand for paper grew, machine-made papers from the West grew in popularity, and handmade production of washi declined. By 1983, there were less than 500 papermaking families left in Japan. Washi, however, remains an important and cherished part of traditional Japanese culture; it is still used in religious ceremonies, and can be seen in a variety of applications from fine books and artworks to stationery and crafts.

Mini Hina Rabbits in a Washi Tube — one of several washi-based products available at The JANM Store and janmstore.com.
Reiko Nakano, a lifelong teacher, discovered what she likes to call “the wonderful world of washi” on her trips to Japan. “Being made from three different plant fibers, washi is natural and resilient,” she enthuses. “It is the perfect medium for calligraphers and designers, who decorate it with historical patterns and modern motifs.”

Nakano discovered that washi is also great for making jewelry because it’s so adaptable. “Washi can cover any surface: round wooden beads, cardboard trays, glass pendants, steel plumbing tools, cork coasters,” she says. Her class on September 9 will focus on making a souvenir washi pendant necklace using wooden beads; in the process, participants will learn techniques of looping and wrapping, how to make an adjustable knot, and how to lacquer washi projects. Another class on December 16 will utilize plumbing hardware, like washers.

Washi is acclaimed for having properties like no other paper: it is strong, light, acid-free, translucent, and uniquely textured. It also absorbs inks and dyes well, and resists creasing and tearing. Nakano is excited to share its possibilities. “With a few simple tools, some ‘tricks of the trade,’ and a lot of patience, anyone can enter the wonderful world of washi.”

This workshop is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs. For more information and to register, click here for September 9 and here for December 16.

Asian American Comic-Con’s Summit on Art, Action, and the Future

Asian American Comic-Con presented a Summit on Art, Action, and the Future at JANM on July 15. Below, JANM summer intern in public programs and media arts Leighton Kotaro Okada contributes a photo recap of the event.

A roundtable discusses the advancement of APIA women in the film industry.
All photos by Leighton Kotaro Okada.

The first Asian American Comic-Con, held in 2009 in New York City, marked the birth of new discussions in Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) communities. Eight years later, the Comic-Con has returned to address new developments in APIA media production and representation.

JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs with George Takei, Keith Chow, and Jeff Yang.

On Saturday, July 15, 2017, dozens of artists, comic fans, bloggers, movie lovers, writers, actors, “Trekkies,” and activists gathered at JANM under the common theme of APIA pop culture. Panels and roundtable discussions touched on various hot topics, including diversity, Asian American women in the film industry, and more. Panelists came from all over the country and represented a range of diverse opinions and experiences, each bringing a unique point of view and novel ideas on the future of APIAs in media.

Phil Yu, Keith Chow, George Takei, and Jeff Yang gather for a selfie at the event’s conclusion.

A roundtable titled “Woman Warriors: Reimagining Asian Female Heroes” gathered actresses, writers, and producers to discuss the advancement of APIA women in the film industry. Topics such as dragon lady and martial arts stereotypes, fighting for rich and novel roles, and the difficulties of working as both an APIA and a woman in the industry came up while answering questions such as “What should we expect in a rich, textured, powerful, and provocative APIA heroine?” and “What’s worked, what hasn’t, and why has it taken so damned long?”

George Takei receives the Excelsior Award for Art in the Service of Activism.

A highlight of the event was legendary actor and activist George Takei receiving the first-ever Excelsior Award for Art in the Service of Activism. Takei was especially happy to receive the award in the same building where he was married. He then joined author, culture critic, and New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei curator Jeff Yang and Angry Asian Man founder Phil Yu for a special live recording of a They Call Us Bruce podcast. The three talked about Star Trek, politics, and married life, ending with a discussion of “the good, the bad, and the OH MYYY of being George Takei.” Takei’s infectiously hearty laugh and constant joking kept the crowd roaring with laughter.

George Takei, Jeff Yang, and Phil Yu tape an episode of the podcast They Call Us Bruce.

Asian American Comic-Con’s Summit on Art, Action, and the Future was organized, emceed, and moderated by Nerds of Color editor-in-chief Keith Chow and Jeff Yang in cooperation with the Japanese American National Museum.

Leighton Kotaro Okada majors in East Asian Languages and Cultures with minors in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Songwriting at USC.

Aikido Demonstration Among Many Fun Activities Planned for Natsumatsuri

This Saturday, August 19, JANM presents its Natsumatsuri Festival, one of the museum’s two big annual family festival events. As a celebration of summer, the event will include plenty of craft activities for the kids, a reptile petting zoo, two taiko drumming performances, a community bon odori dance, an interactive comic book workshop with Jeff Yang, musical performances from Minyo Station and the cast of Letters to Eve, and much more. Admission to the festival and the museum will be FREE all day.

One special treat on this year’s Natsumatsuri schedule, of interest to children and adults alike, is a martial arts demonstration by the Aikido Cultural Institute. Based in Eagle Rock, the institute has been teaching aikido and related traditional Japanese martial arts for over 35 years. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, a variety of instructors from the institute will demonstrate elements of aikido, iaido (swordsmanship), and classical weapons arts. The audience will be invited to participate at the end.

Aikido, whose name roughly translates to “way of spiritual harmony,” is Japan’s non-violent, non-competitive martial arts form. Its philosophy emphasizes respect for life, self-control, and self-discipline. There are no offensive moves in aikido; like judo, aikido utilizes twisting and throwing techniques to neutralize an aggressor by turning his own strength and momentum against him. The practice of aikido is said to build inner calm and tolerance for stress and crisis in all areas of life, as well as physical skills for self-defense.

Aikido History

Aikido is actually a relatively young practice, having been founded in the early 20th century by a man named Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969). As a boy, Ueshiba witnessed his father being physically assaulted for political reasons, and vowed to develop strength and skills for protection. He became an expert in various forms of martial arts, but still found himself unsatisfied, so he dove into religious study in order to gain a deeper spiritual understanding. Eventually, Ueshiba combined his martial arts training with his spiritual beliefs to create not just a new martial art form, but a distinctive way of life.

An aikido class. Photo by Javier Montano via Flickr Creative Commons.

Aikido techniques are rooted in the three traditional practices that Ueshiba mastered: jujitsu (unarmed combat), kenjitsu (sword fighting), and sojitsu (spear fighting), with many moves invented by the master himself. Its spiritual philosophy takes many cues from Ōmotokyo, a religious sect in Japan with roots in Shintoism and various folk traditions. Ōmotokyo believed strongly in world peace and the need to unify and harmonize all human beings.

Morihei Ueshiba was revered as a master and called O-Sensei (venerable teacher); he was posthumously awarded a purple Medal of Honor by the Japanese government for his unique contributions. His son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1922–99), trained under his father and became instrumental in leading and organizing what would become the Aikikai Foundation, the nonprofit organization that is the center of worldwide aikido practice today. After O-Sensei’s death, Kisshomaru Ueshiba was named Nidai Doshu (the second “master of the way” of aikido). Following Nidai Doshu’s death, his own son, Moriteru Ueshiba, was named Sandai Doshu (third master) and continues to serve as a leader of the aikido movement today.

Be sure to join us this Saturday to see the art of aikido in action, and enjoy the many fun and educational activities we have planned for you and your family!

How the JANM Store Selects and Develops Its Products

Spirit Stones, available at the JANM Store.

In April of this year, the JANM Store was the proud recipient of a 2017 Museum Store Association (MSA) Recognition Award for Product Development. Maria Kwong, JANM’s Director of Retail Enterprises and a current MSA board member, wrote a long essay on how she came to develop the award-winning products, an edited portion of which we published in May. We now present another excerpt from the same essay, which offers more in-depth insights into how products come to be selected and developed for the JANM Store.

Being the director of a museum store with our particular mission statement—to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience—has always made product development challenging. Contrary to what many vendors and buyers imagine, Japanese products do not make up most of our inventory. We are a museum that explores Japanese American culture, history, and community.

During the early days of the JANM Store, the rule was to not buy any products that were perceived as “too Japanese.” This rule served two purposes. First, it put the emphasis on the hybrid culture of Japanese Americans. Second, it removed the appearance of competing with local neighborhood merchants, many of whom do specialize in products imported from Japan. Explaining all of this to vendors was often met with perplexed head scratching.

What we wanted was to offer memorable items that would firmly imprint what we were about on the visitor’s memory—items that would remind people of the history they had seen through our exhibitions. Finding such objects became the mission of the store. What kind of products could we offer that would bring back the stories depicted in Common Ground: The Heart of Community, our core exhibition covering 130 years of Japanese American history, from the early days of the Issei pioneers to the present day?

On the left, mystery stones that were found at Heart Mountain concentration camp and donated to JANM’s collection; on the right, the keepsake products they inspired at the JANM Store.

Our first custom products were inspired by a 55-gallon metal drum full of rocks that was found at the site of the Heart Mountain concentration camp. Each one had been carefully painted with a single Japanese kanji character. These rocks were initially dubbed “the Heart Mountain mystery rocks,” but it was later determined that they formed Buddhist sutras when placed around the cemetery at Heart Mountain.

Around that time, “affirmation stones” were becoming popular. We found a vendor who offered to make custom stones for us—not painted, but carved, making for a more permanent object. We selected a few of the kanji from the Heart Mountain stones and had them reproduced by a local calligrapher. It was a daunting project, producing six designs in quantities and prices that would work for both the store and the vendor. And when we announced that we were going to sell rocks in the store, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Apparently no one remembered when Pet Rocks were popular!

That was 18 years ago. Today, our stones are still selling, and we have expanded our line to include Heart Mountain Mystery Rocks, Spirit Stones, and Kaeru Stones. Our stones feature characters that were used at Heart Mountain as well as popular Japanese American sayings and whimsical images of JANM’s mascot, the frog (kaeru), which symbolizes the concept of “return” in Japanese culture.

Other products we have developed over the years include a koinobori (carp kite) painting kit; a plush frog toy that doubles as a secret container; a plush daruma beanbag; a kaeru zipper pouch by M.P. Barcelona; and a series of custom tea blends that are named after the different generations of Japanese Americans. Developed in collaboration with neighboring business Chado Tea Room, the tea blends include Issei, a roasted hojicha blended with coconut in honor of the first Japanese immigrants who settled in Hawaii, and Nisei, a genmaicha with citrusy bergamot tones to honor the second generation that largely settled on the West Coast.

Today the JANM Store is virtually exploding with uniquely Japanese American products, many of which are collaborations with local vendors, as well as a great collection of Japanese American history and culture books and products related to our current exhibitions. Intriguing new items are added all the time—like this tasty Japanese salsa from Colorado—so be sure to stop by often for an authentic adventure in Japanese Americana.

Japanese Salsa Now Available at the JANM Store

Staff members at JANM have been particularly excited lately about a new product being sold at the JANM Store: Karami, a unique salsa developed over 100 years ago by Japanese American immigrants in Colorado. In addition to being extremely tasty, the salsa (whose name means “beautiful heat”) offers a window onto a little-known piece of Japanese American history.

According to Karami’s website, the salsa came into being around the turn of the 19th century, after some enterprising Japanese immigrants settled in Colorado with their families. Finding themselves far inland without access to the ocean-based food staples of their native land, they were forced to be inventive with the resources they had. After sampling a variety of local vegetables, they found that the spicy green chile pepper made for the most viable substitute for seaweed. They mixed the green chiles with soy sauce and used it as a topping on rice, fish, chicken, and meats.

Generations of Japanese Americans who grew up in Colorado were known to keep a jar of the homemade mixture on their kitchen table. Every family had their own variation on the recipe. It was Jason Takaki’s family recipe that formed the basis of the product now known as Karami Japanese Salsa; with the help of his partner Kei Izawa, Takaki was able to turn his salsa into a viable business. For a detailed account of their journey, check out this Daily Camera article. For an early review of the salsa, see Gil Asakawa’s 2013 article on JANM’s DiscoverNikkei.org. For even more delicious historical details on Colorado’s Japanese salsa, check out this article on the Great Flavors website.

This writer sampled the product and was instantly hooked. Karami Japanese Salsa possesses a smooth, silky quality that I’ve never experienced in other salsas. An initial pleasingly sweet flavor soon gives way to a memorable kick that packs a low, slow-burning heat. I had it with tortilla chips and polished off half a jar before I knew it. Maria Kwong, JANM’s Director of Retail Enterprises and the person responsible for bringing us this salsa, tells me it’s great on hot dogs. Jason Takaki himself likes it best on fried rice.

A jar of Karami sells for $8 in our store; check it out the next time you’re at the museum. Please note this product is not available online.

UPDATE, June 6, 2017: Due to popular demand, the JANM Store is now selling the salsa online. However, it sold out within ten minutes of being announced in our monthly store email! To stay up-to-date on store offerings, subscribe to the store email here.

Kizuna Inspires and Trains the Next Generation of Japanese Americans

All photos courtesy of Kizuna.

Founded in 2011, Kizuna is a nonprofit organization based in Little Tokyo whose mission is “to build a future for our community through the education, empowerment, and engagement of the next generation.” Through a variety of workshops, projects, and initiatives, Kizuna teaches leadership and community service skills as well as Japanese American values and cultural practices to Nikkei youth of all ages.

At the 2017 Oshogatsu Family Festival, JANM hosted Kizuna’s story time reading and signing of their recently published children’s book, Thank You Very Mochi (available for purchase at the JANM Store). We will also be partnering with them to present our next JANM Free Family Day on Saturday, April 8. The event will celebrate Japanese American history and Kizuna staff will be on hand to lead craft activities, a spam musubi workshop, and story time readings.

This week, we sat down with Kizuna director Craig Ishii via email to find out more about the organization and what it does.

Kizuna celebrates the opening of their office.

JANM: You’ve been going strong now for six years. Please tell us the story of how and why Kizuna was founded.

Craig Ishii: Several of us had been working at different community-based nonprofits for some time—Little Tokyo Service Center, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Japanese American Citizens League, etc. During our tenures with those organizations, it became clear that the community was looking for involvement from the next generation, but there was a general lack of knowledge and practice on how to do this. So in 2011, we brought our heads together and created the organization. We were not experts in this arena, but we had the drive. We went through several names before we found the name “Kizuna.”

When we were first getting off the ground, we had no office and no resources, but we had our networks, a clear vision, and nonprofit building skills. In addition to our years of working in nonprofits, several of us also held master’s degrees in nonprofit management; I really believe that the technical knowledge we acquired in those programs had a huge impact on the success and growth of Kizuna. In our first year, we launched our programming, held our first fundraiser, and seeded the funds to hire our first staff member. Since then, we’ve been able to continuously grow our budget, staff, and programs each year.

JANM: What does the name “Kizuna” mean?

CI: Kizuna doesn’t have a direct English translation. Eiko, the very wise receptionist at JACCC, described it best when she told me that kizuna is the depth of your relationship with someone. So the bond between myself and my parents, that is our kizuna; or the bond between best friends, that’s kizuna. We chose this name for a couple of reasons: we’re hoping to create a deep relationship between our students and the community, but we’re also hoping to build a tightly knit next generation that is connected and networked.

Kizuna staffers Sophie Wang and Michelle Yamashiro help
promote their children’s book, Thank You Very Mochi.

JANM: Tell us about the book, Thank You Very Mochi. What inspired you to get into publishing, and is this the first of more children’s books to come?

CI: Our program manager, Paul Matsushima, held a workshop a couple years back where he had to manage more than 60 kids for a mochitsuki (mochi pounding) workshop. He knew that having 60 kids pound and knead mochi at once would be impossible, so he split them into various activity stations. One of those was a storytelling station that revolved around a family mochitsuki. Afterwards, one of the parents said to him, “Hey, that story is a cute idea, you should turn it into a children’s book.” So Paul, Sophie Wang (Kizuna’s development coordinator), and I co-authored Thank You Very Mochi. It’s been a great way to get our mission out to the community here in Southern California and beyond. I think this book is everyone’s favorite accomplishment to date and yes, we would like to publish more!

JANM: What are some of your other favorite accomplishments?

CI: I’m pretty sure we have the largest network of Japanese American summer camp programs in the nation now. We manage six separate locations working with around 350 elementary to middle school students per year (and that number grows each year). It’s our largest program but also our most creative. It’s my personal favorite because it allows Kizuna to build the culture of the next generation. When we have a student who attends for more than a couple of years, we can impart important understanding and behaviors that will help them be successful and give back to our community as they age.

JANM: It’s amazing that you offer a full range of programs for ages seven through young adulthood. Do your kids tend to come back to take on more advanced programs?

CI: Yes, definitely, there’s a high retention rate. For me, working with kids is the clearest and most direct representation of impermanence. On one hand, you want the kids to grow up and everything that you do is about their growth and development. But then, of course, as they do grow up, they become smarter and wiser, and they really don’t need you as much. Then at that point, they become the teachers, instructors, and mentors. It’s great to watch this, but sometimes it feels like it happens a little too quickly. I’m sure folks in my parents’ generation say the same thing about us!

Join JANM and Kizuna for JANM Free Family Day: Celebrate Japanese American History on Saturday, April 8. Thank You Very Mochi is available for purchase at kizuna-la.org, janmstore.com, and in person at the JANM Store.

Hinamatsuri: Celebrating Girls

A HInamatsuri display in a Tokyo hotel lobby. Photo by David Wiley via Flickr.

As we look forward to the advent of spring on March 20, one of Japan’s most beloved holidays helps us get into the spirit. Hinamatsuri, or Girl’s Day, occurs on March 3, just as the chilly climes of winter begin to show signs of receding.

Hinamatsuri celebrates and nurtures the promise of young girls. It does this primarily through an elaborate display of dolls dressed as members of the imperial Japanese court. In addition to being a favorite toy of many girls, the display represents the family’s hopes that their little girl will be as beautiful, graceful, and fortunate as the little dolls.

A Hinamatsuri display at home. Photo by nansei via Flickr.

A typical Hinamatsuri arrangement consists of multiple tiers, with the Emperor and Empress perched on the top tier, followed by descending ranks of servants: samurai, ladies in waiting, and children. Also included are accessories for the dolls, such as tea sets, dressers, and even bathtubs. A full Hinamatsuri set can be very elaborate and very expensive, and many have been passed down through generations. Hinamatsuri celebrations also include eating special foods, such as hina arare (sweet rice crackers) and sakuramochi (mochi wrapped in cherry leaves).

For the most part, Hinamatsuri is celebrated privately, as a domestic ritual, although public displays and ceremonies do occur. Each family typically brings out their set a few weeks before the holiday, displaying it in the nicest room of the house until the holiday is over. They must take care to put it away promptly, however, as an old superstition dictates that a girl who tarries too long with the dolls will have difficulty finding a suitable marriage.

A close-up of the Emperor and Empress dolls. Photo by hirotomo t via Flickr.

The word hina means small and lovely object, while matsuri is the Japanese word for festival. Historians trace the origins of Hinamatsuri to the reign of the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1623-51), when ministers presented a set of hina dolls to the shogun’s eldest daughter on her seventh birthday, thus beginning a practice that became popular among the noblemen of the day. However, the basic idea of a spring festival to nurture new energy and ward off bad luck dates as far back as ancient China.

At JANM, we’ll be celebrating Hinamatsuri with an origami workshop on Saturday, March 4, at 1 p.m. Longtime museum volunteer and origami enthusiast Ruthie Kitagawa will show you how to make Hinamatsuri-themed cards for your family and friends. The JANM Store also has several Hinamatsuri-related products to help you celebrate; check out, for example, this cute solar-powered Hina doll display, or this beautiful rabbit Hinamatsuri pop-up card.

Kagami Mochi Brings Good Luck, Health, and Prosperity in the New Year

Simple kagami mochi decorate this altar in Japan.
Photo by Tamaki Sono via Flickr Creative Commons.

A new year is here, and this Sunday, JANM will be celebrating Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) along with the rest of Little Tokyo. Our free Oshogatsu Family Festival will welcome everyone with Year of the Rooster-themed activities, crafts, and performances.

Oshogatsu is widely considered the most important holiday in Japan, and there are many time-honored traditions that go with it. We’ve explored a few of those traditions on this blog: mochitsuki, Daruma dolls, and osechi-ryori. Today, in anticipation of Sunday’s festival, we will look at kagami mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. Among the many exciting things we have planned is a craft activity in which participants will be able to construct and take home their own replica of a kagami mochi.

Kagami mochi basically consists of a large round rice cake (mochi) topped with another, slightly smaller rice cake, which is then topped with a small bitter orange (daidai). The two rice cakes symbolize the year that just passed along with the year that is to come, while daidai is a homonym for the phrase “generation to generation.” Thus, the arrangement celebrates long life, the bonds of family, and the continuity of generations.

Hisako Hibi, New Year’s Mochi, 1943. Hisako Hibi Collection,
Japanese American National Museum.

An additional meaning harkens back to an ancient Japanese myth. The word kagami means mirror, and the round shape of the rice cakes is said to resemble the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu. According to legend, the earth went dark when Amaterasu retreated from the world and hid in a cave. She was eventually drawn out with a mirror, restoring light to the world. Thus, kagami mochi also symbolizes the renewal of light and energy that occurs at the start of a new year.

Each family decorates kagami mochi in their own way; variations include a sheet of kelp to symbolize pleasure and joy. It is recommended that several kagami mochi are placed in locations throughout the house, in order to please the various Shinto gods that are believed to dwell there.

An especially elaborate kagami mochi arrangement, made in Peru. Photo by the Japanese Peruvian Association (APJ) via DiscoverNikkei.org.

Kagami mochi are set out around the end of the year, and remain on display until kagami biraki day (kagami breaking day, or “the opening of the mirror”), which usually takes place on or around January 11. On that day, the kagami mochi are broken into pieces with a hammer—never cut, as that would symbolically sever family ties—and cooked and eaten, often as part of a traditional soup called ozoni. This is considered the first important Shinto ritual of the year.

Come celebrate with us on Sunday, January 8, and increase your good fortune for 2017!

To learn more about kagami mochi and other Japanese New Year traditions, we recommend the following articles on our Discover Nikkei site: “Mochi Making Then and Now”; “Oshogatsu Traditions in the United States”; “Mochi Food of the Kami”; and “Happy New Year! Reminiscing about Oshogatsu with Mochi”.

Shibori Girl Has a Passion for Handmade Crafts

The fruits of a recent shibori class at JANM. Photo by Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi.

As “Shibori Girl,” Glennis Dolce offers several shibori (resist cloth dyeing) workshops a year at JANM. If you’re not familiar with the art of shibori, check out our earlier blog post on the history of the craft. Dolce’s workshops are always very popular; in fact, this weekend’s Indigo Vat Making and Shibori Technique workshop is completely sold out. We decided to sit down with Dolce to learn more about her background and her practice.

JANM: You’ve said that you think of Japan as your first home. Can you explain your connection to that country?

Glennis Dolce: I grew up in Yokohama, Japan, as a result of my father—a naval architect—taking two back-to-back assignments at the Yokohama Naval Shipyard. We lived there from 1965 to 1972. We lived both on and off the base and had the opportunity to take in many wonderful locations, absorbing the enriching culture and beauty of Japan. I went to the two base schools in Yokohama (Richard E. Byrd Elementary and Nile C. Kinnick High School) as well as St. Maur International School. In 1995, I went back to Japan for the first time after moving away and realized that I had come back “home.”

Glennis Dolce leads a shibori class at JANM, flanked by samples of resist cloth dyeing.
Photo by Tokumasa Shoji.

JANM: How did you first encounter shibori? What captivated you about it?

GD: I must have seen and even worn some shibori as a child at summer festivals in Japan, where we dressed in yukata (summer kimono) with obi age (sash), but back then I did not know what it was. During the late 1990s, I was a vendor at the Houston Quilt Festival, and it was there that I started to pick up small bits of Japanese textiles. Later, I realized that most of what I had collected was shibori. I was intrigued by its unique patterning and the texture that was sometimes imparted to the cloth by the process. I wondered to myself, how was it made? And that’s how it all started. I studied the fabrics, read many books, and eventually began practicing on my own. As I learned and practiced more, my love for shibori grew with the understanding that each piece is unique and has limitless possibilities. This in itself is a view of life that I enjoy passing along when I teach.

Glennis gives advice to a workshop participant. Photo by Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi.

JANM: Describe your artistic training.

GD: I was fortunate to attend a new and experimental high school in Virginia that was very progressive and had full-on art studios in painting, sculpture, ceramics, metals, textiles, and printmaking. It was fantastic. I had access to materials and equipment, and I had a passion for working with my hands. Following that, I attended UC Davis and CSU Long Beach as a ceramics major in the late 70s. I chose ceramics because I thought I could make a living with clay and I wanted to work with my hands. I started a porcelain company while I was at CSULB and worked in porcelain for over 30 years until I closed the company around 2002. I consider my primary training to be the ongoing day-to-day operation of my business, my love for materials and process, and the challenge of making a living outside the constraints of being “normal.”

A workshop participant examines his work. Photo by Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi.

JANM: Besides teaching, you also run an online store. Can you tell us more about the store?

GD: Yes, I actually spend more time making and selling my work than teaching; I enjoy both. I have been blogging since 2006 and over time have created a following for my work. I have always enjoyed making and selling things that others can incorporate into their own work—being a craft supplier if you will. My online store often features my unique silk shibori ribbon that people all over the world buy to use in their own creative projects. I also sell indigo and plant-dyed cloth for others to incorporate into their own work.

I believe that making things by hand is valuable and even necessary for people. It can provide stress reduction, increased life satisfaction, and even improved brain function, according to some studies linking motor skills with cognitive processing. I enjoy creating things that make people wonder. As a child, I realized that making arts and crafts made me feel better. It still does. I started teaching as a way to educate people about my own work as well as encourage them to incorporate hand-making into their own lives.

Another happy customer. Photo by Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi.

JANM: Do you have other creative pursuits besides shibori?

GD: I do like to share my interest in Japan and silk textiles with others in the form of my Silk Study Tour to Japan, which I offer every other year. It is a tour devoted to seeing Japan through the eyes of a silkworm; understanding the industrialization of Japan and its connection to the silk trade as well as the many textile, craft, and cultural traditions there. I get lots of enjoyment from sharing the beauty and grace of Japan with others through this tour.

I have many creative interests—gardening, cooking, writing, marketing, sewing, watercolor painting, calligraphy, and more. I believe that we can inject creativity into almost anything we do!

The next available Shibori Girl workshop at JANM will be Shibori Mandalas, taking place Saturday–Sunday, February 4–5, 2017. Be sure to reserve your spot early!

Decoden takes “Bedazzling” to Another Level

At our last decoden workshop in January 2016, participants got to work on Giant Robot figurines. Photo by MariAnne Nguyen.
At our last decoden workshop in January 2016, participants got to
work on Giant Robot figurines. Photo by MariAnne Nguyen.

 

This Saturday, October 22, JANM is offering a Decoden Phone Case Workshop, led by lifestyle personalities Chrissa Sparkles and Jon Brence. Participants will bring their own plain plastic phone cases and make them over with the decoden materials provided. Many of you are old hands at this, but others may be wondering, what is decoden? And where does it come from?

The word decoden is a Japanese portmanteau combining deco, which stands for decoration, and den, which is shorthand for denwa, the Japanese term for “phone” (literally “electric talk”). Decoden culture began to develop almost as soon as cellular phones came into popular usage, around the turn of the century. If you are familiar with the American craft of “bedazzling,” then you can understand decoden, which is basically the same thing—dressing up ordinary objects with sparkly accessories.

The cake frosting effect can be achieved with acrylic paint. Photo by Courtney via Flickr Creative Commons.
The cake frosting effect can be achieved with acrylic paint.
Photo by Courtney via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

At first, decoden was applied specifically to cell phones and cell phone cases. As its popularity grew, however, decoden spread to encompass portable gaming systems, digital cameras, tablets, flash drives, picture frames, and even fingernails. Today, it’s an essential component of Japan’s kawaii (cute) culture.

Some of the results of the Giant Robot decoden workshop. Photo by MariAnne Nguyen.
Some of the results of the Giant Robot decoden workshop.
Photo by MariAnne Nguyen.

 

The decoden aesthetic is cute, playful, and above all, excessive. A huge amount of colorful, decorative trinkets are affixed to the surface of the phone or other ordinary object, turning it into a bright, eye-catching work of art that expresses the personality of its owner. Popular components include thick, fake cake icing; tiny clay figurines of everything from ice cream cones and lollipops to buttons, candies, and Sanrio characters; and plastic pre-manufactured charms, referred to in the decoden world as “cabochons.”

There is no end to the things you can decoden! Photo by Cuteness is a lifestyle via Flickr Creative Commons.
There is no end to the things you can decoden! Photo by Cuteness is a lifestyle via Flickr Creative Commons.

Making the perfect decoden object can be time-consuming, and perhaps not as easy as it looks; it requires patience to come up with good designs, a large number of individual pieces have to be glued on, and there are a variety of methods and materials to choose from. Come to our Decoden Phone Case Workshop this weekend, where our expert kawaii workshop leaders will take you back to the origins of the craft and make sure you get it just right!